Category Archives: Gratitude

Power, prickly pears and puffballs

A doozy of a storm blew through Ontario, Canada on Saturday, May 21. In Ottawa, the storm caused more damage than either our legendary ice storm of 1998 or our more recent tornado. The tornado destroyed 80 hydro poles; this storm toppled 300.

We lost power for 7 days.

At that, we were lucky. Most houses in our neighbourhood are still without. As I write this, I hear generators in the distance. And chainsaws. And sirens.

Living without power for that long is disorienting for people of the 21st Century. We couldn’t focus. Routines fell apart. Sleep patterns were disrupted. We ate differently, and our digestive tracts protested. We moved from one room to another with a flashlight in one hand while flicking a (useless) light switch with the other.

Unable to work, or do pretty much anything, people moved around neighbourhoods like zombies. We mourned the loss of beloved trees. So many trees toppled or torn in two.

The event reminded us of the cruel indifference of nature. Sometimes a perfectly healthy tree had snapped while older, sicker ones nearby stayed standing.

The storm was not “fair” or “unfair.” It was its wild self.

Through it all, when we met neighbours on our walks, we counted our blessings:

  • We didn’t have bombs falling on our heads.
  • Gunmen were not shooting up our schools.
  • We had access to generators.
  • We had to worry about losing food, so that meant we had food to lose.
  • We had no internet, but we had data plans!

I found another blessing while burning up data on my phone powered by a generator, I read a post on one of my favourite Facebook pages: The View From Connaught Pond, Grant Dobson | Facebook. I learned that the prickly pear cactus can thrive in Canada. I never would have thought it! That simple knowledge gave me joy in our time of frustration.

Another spot of joy came when I dug around in my garden and came upon some puffballs. I hadn’t seen them since I was a kid tromping around our farm woodlot. It was a simple, silly thing, but it brought light to my day when electricity couldn’t.

Watch the puffball, and tell me, what brought you gratitude and joy today?

My husband demonstrates proper puffball technique.

Total amazement

In the movie Joe Versus the Volcano, a man (played by Tom Hanks) believes he is dying of an incurable disease. He agrees to travel to a South Pacific island to throw himself into a volcano to satisfy the beliefs of the superstitious island residents.

But as he travels there, he . . . wakes up.

“Almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to . . . only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.” 

—from Joe Versus the Volcano by John Patrick Shanley

Total amazement happens often enough. But, constant total amazement? Much more challenging.

Usually, we need jarring events to awaken us. Power outages jolt us into amazement electric lights—the ones we flick on without a thought.

A broken leg—or even a cut on a finger—painfully reminds us of the wonder of a healthy body.

How about the device you’re reading this on? Isn’t the technology totally amazing?

We need to fall asleep to the amazement sometimes, just so we can function. After all, somebody has to do the dishes. If we lived in constant total amazement, we might get no farther than our bedroom doors every morning, or the park bench on a sunny afternoon. Because constant total amazement stops us in our tracks.

Perhaps John Patrick Shanley was right when he wrote those words for Joe Versus the Volcano. Maybe almost the whole world is asleep, just so we can get the dishes done and the lawn mowed.

But maybe, if we think about that, it will prompt us to wake up at least some of the time, maybe a little more often than we usually do. It’s a start.

What is totally amazing around you right now?

In the photo below you can see that my son is doing is best to live in constant total amazement.

Man sitting on a cliff edge in the south of France.
Yeah, mothers don’t worry at all when they see photos like this.

Living the first draft

I posted this on a previous blog. It’s come to my mind again in recent weeks.


Sometimes I wonder . . . Did someone ever say to Mozart, “Ya know what, Wolfgang? I think that should be two quarter notes instead of one half note.”

  • Have you ever been lost for words in an emotional moment only to think later, “I should have said this . . .”?
  • Or perhaps you said the absolutely worst thing possible only to think later, “If only I hadn’t said that!”?
  • Or maybe you have thought, “If I could do that over again, I’d do it differently.”?

We don’t get to edit our lives before publication. Everything we do is first draft.

Anne Lamott encourages writers to “Write shitty first drafts.” She knows that getting something—anything—down on the page is key. Writers can’t believe that words are supposed to sprinkle gracefully onto the page in perfect pearly rows. We’d never get anything done, we’d be so frozen with apprehension.

A mediocre mess of an idea out there is better than a perfect pearly idea hidden.

Every day we meet people and choose words to speak to them. Sometimes we choose appropriate, helpful words. But sometimes we choose hurtful ones.

Every day we choose clothes and do our hair. Sometimes our wardrobe and hair could be on the cover of Vogue. But sometimes we manage only sweatpants and a washed face.

Occasionally  life kneecaps us with unexpected blows. Sometimes we rise above it with wise, rational choices. But sometimes we solve problems with beer and a whiskey chaser.

We can’t edit our lives before publication, and that means our words and actions won’t sprinkle gracefully in perfect pearly rows. We have to live our delightfully shitty first draft and forgive ourselves for it.

Because one mediocre mess of a life out there is better than a perfect pearly one hidden. 

Rose petals scattered across an light pine hardwood floor.
Scattered rose petals. A beautiful mess.

Soft and supple: Thoughts for new life

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life. 
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
- Lao Tzu, as found in Atomic Habits by James Clear

In this season of Easter | Passover |Ramadan—all times of self-reflection—we contemplate what it means to live fully and well.

The soft, supple, tender, pliant, and yielding are alive and growing. They stretch toward sunny new truths.

The stiff, hard, brittle, dry, and inflexible are breaking. They crumble and return to dust.

For me this is Easter Monday morning. A time of new life, in whatever way you believe it to be. A time of recognizing that good always arises out of the darkest of times.

I just need to remember that during the dark times.

Not grow dry and brittle. Stay soft and supple and ready for new life.

A field of corn in spring with rows of new sprouts about six inches high. A barn in the distance.
Soft and supple sprouts reaching for sunny new truths

What friendship looks like: #TheTellMeChallenge

In social media these days, the #TheTellMeChallenge asks people to reveal something about themselves without directly mentioning the subject.

For example, “Tell me you’re a baby boomer without telling me you’re a baby boomer.”

Romper Room logo

In that spirit, I took this picture in the woods near my house. There are three paths trodden through the snow: two for friends to walk side by side and a third for social distancing while greeting fellow walkers.

Tell me you are a friend without telling me you are a friend.

Three paths trodden side by side through the snow in the woods.
Community spirit

Being rid of that which does not feed us

I have been reading Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, a recommendation of TheHomePlaceWeb blog.

The book provides solace to the soul, and that is something we citizens of Ottawa, Canada need in our difficult times.

Katherine May writes about how we think of life as linear, a slow march from birth to death. That is true, but May reminds us that the pattern of life is also cyclical, or seasonal. We circle through periods of beginnings and endings, storing up and shedding, and wakefulness and sleeping throughout our lives.

At the beginning of a day, or a project, or a course of study, we are similar to trees with green leaves full of chlorophyll. The leaves absorb sunlight and convert carbon dioxide and water into tree food, and we absorb information and convert physical supplies into some sort of product that serves to advance our lives. Spring and summer cycles are about gathering and growing.

At the end of a day, or fiscal year, or a career, we prepare for change in the way of a tree. The chlorophyll in leaves breaks down in fall. The green disappears and exposes other beautiful colours that were always there but hidden. In a process called abscission, the cells between the stem and the branch weaken until supply to the leaf is cut off and the leaf falls. In our lives, this is when we pass on clothes we no longer need, or clear out university textbooks, or pack up personal belongings from the office and walk out the door.

Abscission, the process required for shedding of leaves, is “part of an arc of growth, maturity, and renewal.” In other words, to protect ourselves and stay strong, sometimes we need to rid ourselves of that which no longer feeds us.

BUT—and this is important —even on the coldest, darkest days of winter, when deciduous trees appear fully dead, there are buds. They are small and protected by thick scales, but they are there.

“We rarely notice them because we think we’re seeing the skeleton of the tree, a dead thing until the sun returns. But look closely, and every single tree is in bud . . .”

From Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
A twig of a deciduous tree in February against a background of snow. The branch has buds protected by thick scales.
Buds waiting for the sun

On this cold winter day in Ottawa, it helps me to know that buds are in place. It allows me to believe that the events taking place in downtown Ottawa had a spring, summer, and fall season and that the time of shedding approaches.

Soon we will be rid of that which does not feed us.